Hess was born David Alexander Hess on September 19, 1936 in New York City. His mother, Marjory, was an opera singer. In 1956, Hess recorded the original version of the Otis Blackwell composition “All Shook Up” under the stage name David Hill. The next year the song became a #1 hit single for Elvis Presley. He began his professional career as a songwriter for Shalimar Music in 1957. He composed “Start Movin'” for Sal Mineo and “Rockin’ Shoes” for the Ames Brothers. In 1959 he recorded a cover version of Cliff Richard’s “Living Doll” for Kapp Records and it became a mild placed charter for him on the US Billboard charts. He wrote songs for Elvis Presley throughout the 1950s and 1960s, which include “I Got Stung”, “Come Along”, and “Sand Castles”. “Your Hand, Your Heart, Your Love” became a 1960s hit when it was performed by Andy Williams. In 1962, Hess wrote and recorded “Speedy Gonzales,” (as David Dante) which became a #6 single for Pat Boone in the US and a #2 in the UK, selling more than eight million copies worldwide. Hess then recorded two solo albums for Kapp Records, again topping the charts, this time with a Top Ten folk hit called “Two Brothers.” In 1969, he became head of A&R at Mercury Records in New York. There he linked up with Western classical composer John Corigliano, and together they wrote the Grammy award-winning rock opera, The Naked Carmen, which became a big hit of the Berlin Ballet Week in 1970. His work with Mercury also included And the Children Toll the Passing of the Day, a 1969 album he wrote for Irish actor Malachy McCourt.
In 1972, his career split off into several new directions with his starring role in the Wes Craven horror classic Last House on the Left (1972), for which he also composed the soundtrack. In that movie, he was noted to have been a reckless, merciless character. He went on to score Buck at the Edge of the Heaven (it), a children’s film based on a collection of Jack London stories. The film won the top prize for film and direction at the Giffoni Film Festival. He also had roles in Hitchhike and The House on the Edge of the Park. A subsequent job offer from PolyGram’s German affiliate gave Hess the opportunity to move to Munich, Germany, and a multilingual career in film dubbing from 1972 to 1976 which in turn led him to writing the English language shooting scripts for such German directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Reinhard Hauff, and his present collaborator, Peter Schamoni. In 1980, he directed his first American feature film, To All a Good Night, for Media Home Entertainment in 1980. He also appeared in two horror films directed by Ruggero Deodato, La Casa sperduta nel parco (1980) and Camping del terrore (1987). He appeared as a villain in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing in 1982. In 1991, he played the part of the American in Peter Schamoni’s Max Ernst—My Wanderings, My Unrest (1991). From 1993 to 1995 he produced Niki de Saint Phalle: Wer ist das Monster – du oder ich? (1996).
In later years, he released two albums, Caught Up In The Moment and Live & Unplugged in Hollywood, 2002. He lived in Northern California, just outside of San Francisco, with his wife Regina Mardek, with whom he had three children. He worked on several tracks for the horror film Cabin Fever (2003), directed by Eli Roth. In 2013 One Way Static Records released the soundtrack to Last House on the Left on vinyl, compact disc, cassette and digital download. This was intended as a posthumous tribute and the liner notes on the release include extensive writings by David’s family, colleagues and friends. This edition was repressed on a limited, hand numbered picture disc for Record Store Day 2014. Hess died from a heart attack on October 7, 2011 in Tiburon, California. He was 75.
- September, 19, 1936
- New York, New York
- October, 07, 2011
- Tiburon, California
Cause of Death
- heart attack